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Celebrating a Sixth Cohort of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools; Launching the 2017 Green Strides Tour

August 23, 2017 - 12:45pm

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) began in 2011-2012 by defining “green school” according to three Pillars.  In 2012-2013, ED added a District Sustainability Award and began an annual tour spotlighting the practices of honorees and launched a Green Strides resources portal for all to employ.  The 2013-2014 cycle added an honor for state officials and 2015 brought a postsecondary category and saw the revamping of the Green Strides portal.

Need an occasion for celebration? On Wednesday, July 19th, we recognized 45 schools, nine districts, nine postsecondary institutions, and one state education agency official at a Washington, D.C. ceremony for their efforts to cultivate sustainable, healthy facilities, wellness practices, and authentic place-based learning.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Management Holly Ham addresses the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools at a ceremony on July 19th in Washington, D.C.

The Director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy James L. Elder, Director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council Anisa Heming, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Management Holly Ham, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Education Director Louisa Koch congratulated the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.  They were also treated to a special briefing with hydrogen fuel car demonstration offered by the U.S. Department of Energy, a National Park Service ranger-led tour of National Monuments, and a reception with their Hill members sponsored by the Center for Green Schools.

As ED-GRS Director, I rejoice in honorees’ achievements each passing year while continuing to look for ways to make this federal communications and outreach tool structured as a recognition award fresh and useful to the school communities we serve.  From tentative beginnings, it has become quite clear to us here at ED that sustainable school practices are here to stay and that our federal agency requires some understanding of school facilities, health, and environment matters, particularly as they affect learning.  I’ve been honored to serve in this evolving role, to read each and every one of our nominations in full every year of this award, and to preside over our annual ceremony — which is always a special event.

Learning from the many national non-profit and federal colleagues who have educated us in these areas over the last five years, I, too, have come to think of healthy, safe, sustainable schools that offer real-world learning opportunities as something that should be the norm in all of our schools.

I’m also thrilled to share that we’ll conduct a fourth iteration of the Green Strides Tour, which spotlights our honorees’ work, this year to Georgia, and focused on the importance of outdoor learning.  You can learn more about that tour here.

To learn more about this year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees, visit our website and annual Highlights Report.  You may also subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  Watch the ceremony video and view photos.


Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.  

Continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

The post Celebrating a Sixth Cohort of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools; Launching the 2017 Green Strides Tour appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

How Do Schools Calculate Your Financial Aid?

August 17, 2017 - 9:58am

One of the questions we receive most often is: “Why didn’t I get more money for school? It’s especially frustrating when you have no idea how a school decided on your aid offer.  Hopefully, this information will shed some light on how schools calculate your financial aid.

It all starts when you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form. Once we (Federal Student Aid) process your application (it takes about three days if you submitted it online), we make your information available to all of the schools you listed on it. Each school then uses your FAFSA information to determine how much aid you are eligible to receive at that school. Each school has its own schedule for awarding financial aid. You must check with each school to find out when you can expect to receive an aid offer.

Schools determine financial aid offers based on three factors:

1. Enrollment Status (full-time, half-time, less than half-time, etc.)

Your enrollment status will impact the amount and types of aid you qualify for. For example, Direct Loans are available only to students enrolled at least half-time, and Federal Pell Grant amounts are partially determined by your enrollment status.

2. Cost of Attendance (COA)

Think of this as your school’s sticker price. Your COA is the estimated amount of money it will cost to go to a particular school. This figure is determined by your school and should be available on the school’s website. If your enrollment status is at least half-time, your COA estimate includes

  • tuition and fees,
  • room and board,
  • books, supplies, living expenses, transportation, loan fees, and more.

Find more details about what’s included in cost of attendance.

Keep in mind that your COA will likely be different at each school, since some schools are more expensive than others.

3. Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The information you provide on the FAFSA is used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is not necessarily the amount of money your family will have to pay for college, nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible for at that school.

The EFC is calculated using a formula established by law. The formula can be difficult to understand; just know that many factors are taken into account—not just income. If you have questions about your EFC, contact the financial aid office at your school.

Schools then use this formula to determine your financial need:

Cost of Attendance (COA)

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

= Financial Need

Once each school has determined your financial need, you will receive aid offers from the schools you’ve been accepted to. Remember that all of your aid offers will be different. Each school has a different ability to meet your financial need—it all depends on the funds available at each school.

The offers will include the types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible to receive from federal, state, private, and school sources. If you need help comparing the offers you received from different schools, use the CFPB’s financial aid offer comparison tool.

Be sure you understand what each type of aid is and whether or not it needs to be paid back. If you have any questions about an offer, you should talk to a financial aid advisor at the school. No matter how much aid you’re offered, it is always up to you to decide how much of a student loan you want to accept. The rule of thumb is that you should only borrow as much money as you absolutely need to pay for the school year. You can always tell your school that you want to borrow less than what is offered.

You may also be interested in these 7 options to consider if you didn’t receive enough financial aid.

Nora Onley is a Management and Program Analyst for Federal Student Aid.

The post How Do Schools Calculate Your Financial Aid? appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Celebrating Student Artistry From Fairfax County Public Schools: “The World Through My Eyes”

August 16, 2017 - 10:51am

On July 18, the Department hosted Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) to celebrate the opening of “The World Through My Eyes,” a collection of student achievement in the visual arts. Ninety FCPS students grades one through 12 at 28 schools contributed to the exhibit; the diversity of their chosen mediums—from photography to painting, illustration, printmaking, mixed media, and film—exemplifies the myriad perspectives and concerns of today’s youths.

Among the exhibit’s many outstanding pieces is “Sisters,” a reimagining of Roselle Hellenberg Osk’s famous 20th-century etching of the same name. Jamie Lambkin and Tiana Espinoza recreated the etching’s mien through photography; flanking their photos are two short, inner-monologue prose pieces by Shiva Zarean and Maxmine Ayompe-Mody, both Oakton High School theater students. Espinoza said her aim was to bring Osk’s themes of racial and cultural diversity into the 21st century along with the notion of religious diversity into the work. “Sisters” stands as a testament to the kind of creativity and artistic capacity that Fairfax County seeks to cultivate in its students.

The opening was not content to honor merely the visual arts, however—it showcased the county’s talented and multifarious performing artists as well. Young musicians shared the stage with vocalists, dancers, and even aspiring directors; interspersed between their outstanding performances were cogent and inspiring remarks by students, county officials, and Department staff. In a particularly powerful moment, FCPS School Board member Karen Corbett Sanders highlighted the fundamental importance of arts education by invoking the father of our country:“George Washington believed that the arts should be in the foundation of an enlightened nation. In 1781, he wrote to a friend: ‘The arts and sciences are essential to the prosperity of the state, and to the ornament and happiness of human life.’”

Epitomizing this sense of joie de vivre was the Lake Braddock Orchestra, led by Troops to Teachers educator Clayton Allen. The concert program juxtaposed Scandinavian romanticism with the English musical avant-garde of the early 20th century—the sonorous, arcing melodies of Sibelius took on a new, profound beauty in the context of Holst and Warlock’s robust harmonies. Many in attendance seemed especially impressed by the students’ rendition of Grieg’s seminal Holberg Suite, which delineates (and perhaps rejuvenates) the principal stylistic and compositional forms of the 18th century. The maturity and composure of these young performers were impressive indeed.

First chair cellist Rebecca Kelly performs during Lake Braddock’s orchestral program. Kelly noted that the responsibilities bestowed upon her by the program have motivated her to work harder.

Ally Johnson, student president of the Lake Braddock Orchestra, noted that her time in Fairfax programs illustrates “the extreme importance of arts education . . . [in that it] engenders an otherwise unattainable sense of community between musicians, as well as between musicians and the school community at large.” What explains Lake Braddock’s success? “We owe a lot to our awesome directors,” noted Joshua Cheng. Many musicians also cited their experience in Fourth-Grade Strings as an essential, even transcendental aspect of their education.

A similar example of artistic excellence featured at the opening was “Buzzcut Season,” a short film by four female students from Rachel Carson Middle School; the film illustrates the cathartic power of friendship and relays a significant message concerning the negative impact of bullying in schools.

Students engage in daring acrobatics while performing “Holding out for a Hero” from the film Footloose. This number featured performers from Annandale, Fairfax, Hayfield, Lake Braddock, South County, and West Springfield High Schools.

Other highlights included Sophia Welch’s rendition of “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked; a performance of Arcangelo Corelli’s Suite for Strings by the Spring Hill Elementary School Chamber Orchestra; “Art Makes a Difference,” an ardent, heartfelt speech by Deer Park Elementary sixth-grader Purnima Vasistha; and “I am a Photographer,” a presentation depicting recent graduate Matthew Cohen’s maturation as both artiste and entrepreneur.  The program concluded with a climactic song-and-dance performance of “Holding Out For a Hero” by a consortium of theater and drama students from six Fairfax high schools. The dramatic acrobatic maneuvers of this riveting number left many in the audience especially awestruck.

By the event’s conclusion, the astounding capabilities of today’s young artists were manifest; also evident were the critical role of schools in their successes, as well as the vital importance of artistic expression at all levels of the educational experience.

Jason Sandoval, a sixth-grader at Groveton Elementary School, poses with his “Micrography Self-Portrait.” From the Greek for “small writing” (Μικρογραφία), Micrography is the practice of using minute letters to form representational or abstract designs. Jason used ink to create it.

Watch the opening in full here on the Department’s Facebook page. The exhibit will remain at ED through Aug. 24.


Andrew Smith is an intern from Middlebury College in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Photo at the top: Everyone’s all smiles at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that culminated the opening of the Fairfax County Public Schools art exhibit. 

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Paul Wood.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov or visit https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit

Continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

The post Celebrating Student Artistry From Fairfax County Public Schools: “The World Through My Eyes” appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Preparing and Developing Culturally Responsive School Leaders

August 11, 2017 - 10:59am

Standard 3 of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) reads, “Effective educational leaders strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices to promote each student’s academic success and well-being.” How do we take this important aspiration and realize it through our practices and actions?

In June, our school’s administrative team hosted a two-day Climate Summit for our entire staff. The aim was to collaborate around our school’s newly defined core values; clarify our common practices around creating a safe and positive school climate; articulate our social-emotional learning plans for the upcoming year; and standardize our discipline practices to ensure consistency, fairness, and, most importantly, increase opportunities for our students to be in class, rather than excluded.

As part of this summit, I shared a slide featuring an infographic illustrating the school to prison pipeline. In sharing this slide, I explained to our team that if we do not change some of our practices to be more culturally responsive and engage all of our students in learning, we will be enabling this system to perpetuate, rather than disrupting it.

Engaging teachers and your school team in a conversation about race and equity and disproportionality in discipline data is not an easy task. Every school leader wants to close achievement gaps, serve the whole child and ensure their teachers feel supported and safe. How do we engage in the bold and complex conversations around our data, practices and policies while understanding the role of institutionalized racism in an ever-changing school landscape? Ensuring all school leaders, at every stage of their career are well-prepared, reflective, constant learners engaging in culturally responsive leadership is essential.

On June 27, the Principal Ambassador Fellows hosted the Principals at ED Principal Preparation Summit at the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. This was the third gathering we hosted this year focused on school leaders.

The convening included nearly 40 participants across the education spectrum. The theme of the day was preparing and developing culturally responsive school leaders.

Our students are increasingly diverse and varied in their assets and needs and yet achievement gaps and opportunity gaps continue to persist. School leaders set the tone, the priorities, and the way of being in their schools, and are critical to ensuring access to a quality, engaging, rigorous, and relevant school experience.

The day focused on problem-solving across domains of school leadership, specifically addressing two questions: 1. How do principal preparation programs address developing culturally responsive leadership? 2. What components can be built into programs that address this area for principals that will allow them to personalize and build better learning conditions for all students? The day also included a listening session with Secretary DeVos.

The assembled educators and thought partners collaborated on various strategies that can be implemented by local school districts, principal preparation programs, and more informally through networks of school leaders collaborating together. These include intentionally recruiting teacher leaders to become principals; fostering collaborative networks among principals; and aligning systems of support for administrators across their careers.

One of the day’s participants remarked, “The Summit has forced me to recommit to my mentor work for new principals, and re-energized my view around the value of veteran principals.”

Another participant noted, “It was good to hear multiple perspectives and feel less like we are working in silos.”

Investing in developing culturally responsive principals requires collaboration, time and engagement from a variety of sectors. Most importantly, it requires courageous leaders at all levels who are willing to reflect, model, learn and lead in order to disrupt systems that fail to serve all students.

Dana Nerenberg was a 2016-17 Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow

The photo at the top is from a Principals at ED gathering at the U.S. Department of Education occurring prior to the gathering referred to in this post.

The post Preparing and Developing Culturally Responsive School Leaders appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Eight Lessons Learned From Piloting the Rapid Cycle Evaluation Coach

August 9, 2017 - 2:23pm

Mrs. Lowerre’s class” by diane horvath is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

For the last 18 months, the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the Department, has been working with Mathematica Policy Research and SRI International to build the Rapid Cycle Evaluation Coach (the RCE Coach). The RCE Coach is a free, open-source, web-based platform to help schools and districts generate evidence about whether their educational technology apps and tools are working to achieve better results for students. The platform was released in Beta in October 2016 and updated in January 2017. The RCE Coach currently includes two types of evaluation designs:

  • matched comparison, which creates two similar groups of users and non-users of an ed tech application already in use at a school site and;
  • randomized pilot, which randomly assigns participants to groups of users and non-users of an ed tech application that has not yet been implemented.

While the tool is free and open for any school or district to use (and many have done so already, with over 1,700 individuals registered), we worked closely with 12 districts to pilot the RCE Coach, and six of the pilots are already complete. The pilots spanned the two evaluation designs and studied how selected math or literacy products affected student academic achievement. Below are eight lessons we’ve learned from these initial pilots.

Lesson 1. The central problem addressed by the RCE Coach — the need for better evidence for making decisions about whether to use ed tech in schools to inform implementation of best practices and procurement — has broad resonance in the field.

In conversations with district staff, we heard repeatedly that people want to know whether the technology they use is making a difference for students and is worth the cost, and that evidence should be more rigorously and systematically generated.

Lesson 2. Moving from broad to narrow research questions is an important part of the process.

Rapid-cycle evaluations — rigorous, scientific approaches to research that provide decision makers with timely and actionable evidence of whether operational changes improve program outcomes — work best for narrow questions that address specific implementations of technology, but most districts start from a different point.

Many of our pilot districts stated their research questions in very broad terms. For example, they wanted to know whether technology in general is moving the needle or whether a school wide technology-based intervention is working. Rapid-cycle evaluations can be most useful in examining whether components of a school improvement plan are having the desired effect on student outcomes or whether the desired effect is coming from one particular technology for a targeted group of students.

Lesson 3. The RCE Coach needs to have the flexibility to meet districts where they are.

Many districts want to know if the technology they are already using is helping students, but they lack the ideal conditions for a causal impact study. For example, a school may have rolled out a new app to all students, but only certain teachers actually used it with their students.

Therefore, it is important that the RCE Coach help users determine what types of analyses are possible and appropriate given their unique circumstances. It’s also important to be clear about the strength of the evidence provided under these different cases so that districts can use the information appropriately.

Lesson 4. Having a champion in the right role at the school or district is crucial.

Rapid-cycle evaluations can fall into the tricky space of being perceived as important but not urgent. Thus, they are susceptible to delays when more pressing tasks arise.

We hypothesize that districts are most likely to complete the evaluations when there are staff dedicated to data analysis or curriculum directors who have less exposure to the pressures of day-to-day school operations. Over the next year, we hope to learn more about the skill sets necessary to successfully navigate the RCE Coach independently and how the RCE Coach can best be embedded into existing operations.

Lesson 5. Large systems may see the RCE Coach as a resource for local capacity building.

A large district with a central data analysis, program evaluation or research unit may choose to train staff in schools to use the RCE Coach in order to build local capacity and enable the study of more technologies than one central team could test alone. Several state departments of education also expressed interest in disseminating use of the RCE Coach into their districts.

Lesson 6. The RCE Coach can support common approaches to evaluation.

At present, within a district, people may use inconsistent approaches to evaluating the effectiveness (and cost-effectiveness) of ed tech. Consequently, weighing the relative effectiveness of different technologies and prioritizing use of resources can be challenging. One pilot district views the RCE Coach as a tool for supporting common approaches to evaluation across a school, district, or state so that decisions can be made based on more comparable information.

Lesson 7. Practices associated with collecting, reporting, and interpreting usage data are still emergent.

In theory, detailed information about whether and how students, teachers, and other users interact with systems, as well as about their performance on embedded evaluations, should be a treasure trove for ed tech evaluations. In practice, several obstacles impede routine use of these data for evaluation purposes.

Key obstacles include the following: (1) There is substantial variation in what types of user interactions are captured and how they are presented by developers; and (2) With usage data, there is wide variation in terms of availability and ease of use.

From a policy perspective, it may make more sense to encourage developers to invest in standardized reporting functionality than to encourage responsiveness to requests for customized reports. For the RCE Coach, we have developed several templates with common indicators of use, progress, and performance. However, we recognize that the development of standards for system data reporting is likely to be a long-term, more organic process.

Lesson 8. Ed tech developers are important partners for RCE.

Districts can in theory conduct RCEs without developer assistance, provided that they have information about who is using the technology and who is not. However, RCEs will often provide more meaningful insights about effectiveness and strength of implementation with the cooperation of developers. Moreover, a productive partnership can facilitate the process of assembling data sets and make best use of usage data.

A number of developers have shown interest in getting involved with the RCE Coach in order to demonstrate the value of their products and deepen engagement with districts. However, we have also encountered reluctance from a number of developers to participate in RCEs, primarily due to the risk of unfavorable results, the potential drain on time and staff, and their lack of control over implementation.

We hope that these fears will abate as RCEs become more established. We also hope that developers will come to view RCEs as an opportunity to learn how and when their products are most effective and to build their evidence base.

In the coming months, we are soliciting more districts to pilot with us. We are also collecting and building resources aimed at helping schools and districts determine concrete outcome measures for ed tech applications that fall outside of the student academic achievement realm. These include identifying outcomes for student non-academic achievement (like grit, motivation, self-awareness, engagement, etc.), and outcomes for ed tech that facilitate teacher professional development and staff productivity.

Additionally, as we continue to pilot the RCE Coach, we are planning to document, in detailed case studies, the areas that cause the most confusion in the rapid-cycle evaluation process. For example, be on the lookout for an upcoming resource that will be embedded directly in the RCE Coach that details how to design a successful pilot. This resource covers topics like randomization, number of participants, unit of assignment, data availability, and selecting meaningful probability thresholds. Additionally, we’ve added a facilitator’s guide on how to demonstrate the platform for those school and district leaders who would like to lead their own trainings on the RCE Coach.

We hope to see more schools and districts pilot the RCE Coach and continue to help us learn and grow from the lessons we’ve already gleaned. For those interested, you can fill out a brief survey here.

Jackie Pugh was a research fellow in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education for a year, through May 2017.

Alexandra Resch is an associate director and deputy director of state and local education partnerships at Mathematica Policy Research, specializing in rapid-cycle evaluation and evidence-based decision making.

Rebecca Griffiths is a senior researcher in SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning.

Cross-posted at: https://medium.com/@OfficeofEdTech/eight-lessons-learned-from-piloting-the-rapid-cycle-evaluation-coach-1f7f681af96f

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Categories: Higher Education News

Join Education ‘Taking Learning Outside’ on the 2017 Green Strides Tour!

August 1, 2017 - 1:32pm

As my toddler son grows, I’ve become intrigued by the outdoor and forest preschool movement. In fact, so convinced have I become of the benefits of outdoor play and learning at his age that I’ve made a point to get Íñigo out every day of his first two years — swimming, hiking, running, biking, camping, climbing, and skiing.  There’s not a day or a temperature at which I don’t bundle him up and get him out, and Íñigo absolutely loves it.

This is just one of many reasons I’m especially thrilled to share that we’ll conduct a fourth iteration of the Green Strides Tour, which spotlights our U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees’ work, this year to Georgia, and focused on the importance of outdoor learning.

As background, U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and its Green Strides outreach initiative share promising practices and resources in the areas of safe, healthy, and sustainable school environments; nutrition and outdoor physical activity; and environmental and sustainability education. To bring additional attention to honorees’ practices, ED-GRS has conducted a Green Strides Tour since 2013, allowing schools, school districts, and postsecondary institutions to share their work with community leaders and policymakers and celebrate their achievements.

The following is the tentative tour schedule for this September’s tour in the state of Georgia. Updates will be shared through our newsletter.


September 19th
8:15 a.m.—9:45 a.m. Pharr Elementary School, 1500 North Rd, Snellville, GA 30078
10:15 a.m.—11:15 a.m. Mason Elementary School, 3030 Bunten Rd, Duluth, GA 30096
12:00 p.m. —1:30 p.m. High Meadows School, 1055 Willeo Rd, Roswell, GA 30075
2:30 p.m.—4 p.m. Ford Elementary School, 1345 Mars Hill Rd NW, Acworth, GA 30101


September 20th
8:15 a.m.—9:15 a.m. Morningside Elementary School, 1053 E Rock Springs Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30306
9:20 a.m.—10:20 a.m. The Paideia School, 1509 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307
10:35 a.m.—11:45 a.m. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, 688 Grant St SE, Atlanta, GA 30315
12:00 p.m.—3:30 p.m. Georgia Institute of Technology, North Ave. Atlanta, GA 30332


All are welcome to join the tour. Past participants have included federal, state and local agency officials and elected officers, such as governors, state legislators, mayors and city council members.  Members of the press are also invited to attend and amplify honorees’ promising efforts, many of which leverage free resources that are available to all interested parties.  Moreover, neighboring schools, districts and colleges and universities are invited to come and learn from the examples on the tour.

This year we’ll be focusing on how schools are teaching effective environmental education, stewardship and civic values through learning outside school walls, using experience to breathe life into standards, in addition to making positive contributions to our communities and planet.

Visitors will see how innovative outdoor learning in its many forms — from school gardens, to field studies, to citizen science and forest schools — provides opportunities to expand traditional learning into the real world to create real change for the betterment of our society and the environment.

I look forward to meeting many representatives who are just beginning their green schools journey and to celebrating the school communities that we have already honored with our award. With a little elbow-grease, strong partnerships, resourcefulness and leadership, I’m confident that I’ll have the opportunity to read about visitors in a coming awards cycle of ED-GRS.

Come prepared to get a little dirty with us while learning outdoors!


Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.  

The post Join Education ‘Taking Learning Outside’ on the 2017 Green Strides Tour! appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

3 Ways to Get Out of Student Loan Default

July 31, 2017 - 11:42am

If you didn’t make payments on your federal student loans and are now in default, don’t get discouraged. It may seem like an overwhelming situation, but you have multiple options for getting out of default. Remember, it’s in your best interest to act quickly to resolve the default, because the consequences of default can be severe.

If you have a defaulted federal student loan owned by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), immediately contact ED’s Default Resolution Group. They will help you figure out the best way to resolve the default based on your individual circumstance.

Default Resolution Group
1-877-825-9923 TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing

Options for Getting Out of Default

You have three options for getting out of default: loan rehabilitation, loan consolidation, or repayment in full.

1. Loan Rehabilitation

To rehabilitate most defaulted federal student loans, you must sign an agreement to make a series of nine monthly payments over a period of 10 consecutive months. The monthly payment amount you’ll be offered will be based on your income, so it should be affordable. In fact, your monthly payment under a loan rehabilitation agreement could be as low as $5! Each payment must be made within 20 days of the due date.

Get more information about loan rehabilitation.

Note: You can rehabilitate a defaulted loan only once.

2. Loan Consolidation

Loan consolidation allows you to pay off your defaulted federal student loans by consolidating (combining) your loans into a new Direct Consolidation Loan.

To consolidate a defaulted federal student loan into a new Direct Consolidation Loan, you must either

  • agree to repay the new Direct Consolidation Loan under an income-driven repayment plan or
  • make three consecutive, voluntary, on-time, full monthly payments on the defaulted loan before you consolidate it.

Learn about which repayment plans will be available to you, and get additional information about loan consolidation.

3. Repayment in full

Repayment in full is exactly as it sounds; you can repay the full amount that you owe at any time.

We understand that repayment in full is not a viable option for most people. If that’s the case, you should focus on deciding between loan rehabilitation and loan consolidation.

Comparing the Benefits You Regain After Rehabilitation and Consolidation
Now that you have a better understanding of what rehabilitation and consolidation are, you can determine which option is best for you. Once your loan has successfully been removed from default, you will regain eligibility for certain benefits, depending on whether you chose rehabilitation or consolidation.

Loan Rehabilitation Loan Consolidation Regained eligibility for deferment, forbearance, and loan forgiveness Yes Yes Regained eligibility for additional federal student aid Yes Yes Choice of repayment plans Yes Yes (but there may be limitations—see below**) Removal of the record of default from your credit history Yes (but see below*) No

*If you rehabilitate a defaulted loan, the record of the default will be removed from your credit history. However, your credit history will still show late payments that were reported by your loan holder before the loan went into default. If you consolidate a defaulted loan, the record of the default (as well as late payments reported before the loan went into default) will remain in your credit history.

**Unless you make three voluntary, on-time, full monthly payments on a defaulted loan before you consolidate it, your choice of repayment plans for the new Direct Consolidation Loan will be limited to one of the income-driven repayment plans. If you make three voluntary, on-time, full monthly payments before consolidating, you can choose from any of the repayment plans available to Direct Consolidation Loan borrowers.

Staying Out of Default

There are a number of things you can do to keep yourself on track and out of default:

1. Enroll in an income-driven repayment plan.

If you haven’t already, you should consider enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. Learn more about income-driven plans.

2. Consider setting up automatic payments.

Sign up for automatic debit through your loan servicer, and monthly payments will automatically be made from your bank account. You may also get a 0.25% interest rate deduction just for enrolling.

3. Track your loans online.

Log in to “My Federal Student Aid” to find information about all of your federal student loans.

4. Keep good records.

It’s helpful to keep important documents such as records of monthly payments, payment schedules, and notes about phone calls to your loan servicer in an organized file.

5. Stay in touch with your loan servicer.

As soon as you think that you’ll have trouble making your monthly payment, contact your loan servicer to discuss your situation—they are there to help you. Additionally, if you enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, your loan servicer will let you know when it’s time to recertify your income and family size.

Nick Dvorscak is a Management and Program Analyst for Federal Student Aid.

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Categories: Higher Education News

8 Things You Should Know About Federal Work-Study

July 27, 2017 - 1:40pm

If you’re looking for another way to help pay for college, Federal Work-Study may be a great option for you. Work-study is a way for students to earn money to pay for school through part-time on- (and sometimes off-) campus jobs. The program gives students an opportunity to gain valuable work experience while pursuing a college degree. However, not every school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program. Schools that do participate have a limited amount of funds they can award to eligible students. This is why it is so important for students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form as early as possible, as some schools award work-study funds on a first-come, first-served basis.

Here are eight things you should know about the Federal Work-Study Program:

1. Being awarded Federal Work-Study does not guarantee you a job.

Accepting the Federal Work-Study funds you’re offered is just the first step. In order to receive those funds, you need to earn them, which means you need to start by finding a work-study job.

Some schools may match students to jobs, but most schools require the student to find, apply for, and interview for positions on their own, just like any other job. Either way, students who are interested in work-study or who have already been awarded work-study should contact the financial aid office at their school to find out whether positions are available, how to apply and how the process works at their school.

2. Not all work-study jobs are on campus.

The availability of work-study positions includes community service options with non-profit employers, which means some work-study jobs are available for off-campus work. (An example: reading to or tutoring children at local elementary schools.) If you are curious about securing a community service work-study position, contact the financial aid office or the career center on campus.

3. Work-study funds are not applied directly to your tuition.

Unlike other types of financial aid, work-study earnings are not applied directly to your tuition and fees. Students who are awarded work-study receive the funds in a paycheck as they earn them, based on hours worked, just like a normal job. These earnings are meant to help with the day-to-day expenses that students have and are not meant to cover large costs like tuition and housing.

4. Work-study jobs may be limited.

You may still be able to work on campus without work-study if your school does not have enough work-study funds or positions to cover all on-campus student employees. Many campuses offer jobs for students with or without work-study. Check with the student employment office on your campus to find out what is available.

5. Federal Work-Study is not guaranteed from year to year.

There are several factors that can determine whether or not you receive work-study from year to year. These include your family income or financial need, whether you used the work-study funds that were offered to you in a prior year, and/or how much work-study funding your school receives that year.

Contact your school for specific awarding criteria if you are interested in work-study. Typically, students who file the FAFSA form early and answer that they are interested in Federal Work-Study will have a better chance of being awarded funds from the program.

6. Pay may vary.

Work-study jobs vary in qualifications and responsibilities, so the pay will depend on the job that you are hired to do. Pay may also depend on your school’s policies and/or the minimum wage requirements in the state.

7. Hours worked may vary.

How many hours you work each week will depend on the type of job you get and your employer’s expectations. Most employment positions for students, however, will work around your class schedule and only require between 10 and 20 hours per week, but again—that can vary!

8. Work-study earnings are removed from your FAFSA calculation.

One of the benefits of earning income through a Federal Work-Study position is that those earnings do not count against you when you complete the FAFSA form. There’s a question on the FAFSA form that asks how much was earned through work-study during a particular tax year; make sure to answer that question accurately so the amount can be factored out. If you do not know how much you earned, you can contact the financial aid office at your school for help.


Chandra Owen, Training Coordinator in the Office of Financial Aid at Michigan State University, Justin Chase Brown, Director of Scholarships & Financial Aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Karla Weber, Communications Manager in the Office of Student Financial Aid at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Categories: Higher Education News

President’s Education Awards Program (PEAP): A Celebration of Student Achievement And Hard Work in the Classroom!

July 26, 2017 - 11:05am

President’s Education Awards Program (PEAP) student recipients are selected annually by their school principal. This year, PEAP provided individual recognition to nearly 3 million graduates (at the elementary, middle and high school level) across the nation at more than 30,000 public, private and military schools from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Outlying Areas: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Students received a certificate signed by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Schools also received letters signed by the President and the Secretary.

The Department is encouraging every school across the country to be on the lookout for 2017-18 school year materials from its program partners: the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). The materials outline how to order certificates to awards before the end of the school year. Certificates are FREE, and there is no limit.

Please review the list at https://www.ed.gov/presedaward/to see if your school currently participates. If not, contact your local school/principal and urge them to participate for the upcoming school year.

Background –

PEAP was founded in 1983. Every year since then, the program has provided principals with the opportunity to recognize students who meet high standards of academic excellence, as well as those who have given their best effort, often overcoming obstacles in their learning. Eligible graduating K-12 students are selected by their principal under two categories.


  • The President’s Award for Educational Excellence – This award recognizes academic success in the classroom. To be eligible, students must meet a few academic requirements, including a high grade point average or other school-set criteria and a choice of either state test performance or teacher recommendations.
  • The President’s Award for Educational Achievement – This award recognizes students that show outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment, or intellectual development in their subjects but do not meet the academic criteria above. Its purpose is to encourage and reward students who give their best effort, often in the face of special obstacles, based on criteria developed at each school.

Recent School Celebrations –

Germantown Elementary School in Maryland serves a diverse student population of about 300 from pre-K through fifth- grade. I had the honor of joining them to congratulate 32 amazing students who were being presented with PEAP certificates during the school’s fifth-grade promotion ceremony.

Germantown Elementary students who earned their PEAP certificates.

Surrounded by excited students and families, I joined Principal Amy Bryant and others school and district leaders to laud the students’ academic success and implore them to continue setting a positive example. As a former student who had returned to offer words of inspiration emphasized, “More homework will come [in middle school] — and along with that is more responsibility.”

Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School in northwest Washington, DC, serves students from the surrounding neighborhoods, a number of out-of-boundary students from throughout the District and Bolling Air Force Base as well as students from over 20 countries, including the embassies of China, France and Russia. During my visit, I had the chance to celebrate with six soon-to-be-middle school students as they were presented with PEAP certificates.

Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School students holding their PEAP certificates.

Along with Principal Donald Bryant and others dignitaries, I encouraged these students to be the light in all situations, help others and let their greatness rub off.

The program also receives great feedback throughout the year. “Please know that the President’s Awards were given a great deal of emphasis at our graduation ceremony, as they are considered highly prestigious,” Prinicpal JoAnn Scott of South Bay Elementary School in West Babylon, New York, noted in a recent message. “Both Mr. Trump’s and Mrs. DeVos’ letters were read aloud at the ceremony, and copies of both letters were given to all of the award recipients, along with their certificates and [purchased] pins.” Notably, South Bay is also a 2007 National Blue Ribbon School, another of the Department’s Recognition Programs.

Principal JoAnn Scott and a PEAP recipient at South Bay Elementary School


Frances Hopkins is director of the President’s Education Awards Program at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

7 Options to Consider if You Didn’t Receive Enough Financial Aid

July 24, 2017 - 3:37pm

The reality of paying for college is that many families find themselves struggling to cover the entire college bill, despite having already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and receiving federal, state, and school-based financial aid and scholarships. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ideas to consider and places to look to help fill the gap between what your financial aid covers and what you owe your school.

TIP: The financial aid office at your school is an excellent resource. If you didn’t get enough financial aid, contact your school’s financial aid office. They can help you explore your options.

  1. Scholarships

Read: Scholarship Basics and Tips

You should make it a routine to regularly search and apply for scholarships. You can ask the financial aid office or your academic advisor about school-specific or departmental (major-specific) scholarships. You should also look for scholarships that are local to where you graduated from high school or live; look for community, religious and fraternal organizations. You may also consider businesses in your community or those that employ your parent(s).

Then, look for scholarship resources that are available from your state government or from statewide organizations with which you may have been involved or companies in your state that are in the field for which you plan to study.

National scholarships can be more competitive, but don’t let that keep you from applying. Get organized and make a plan to regularly search for scholarships and write scholarship essays. Prioritize local applications first and make sure you meet all deadlines!

Just be careful. With scholarship opportunities, it’s wise to be cautious of fraud. If you are ever concerned about the legitimacy of a scholarship opportunity, contact your school’s financial aid office.


  1. Part-Time Work

You may have been awarded Federal Work-Study, which at most schools requires you to find the work-study position yourself. Work-study can help you cover some costs throughout the semester since these funds are paid as you earn them. And remember, these funds are typically paid directly to you through a paycheck, so if you still owe an amount to your school, you would need to take those funds back to the school to pay your bill.

If you were not awarded work-study funds, most schools have other part-time, on-campus positions that can help pay for school. Working part-time on campus can be beneficial to your educational experience. Be cautious, though, of working too many hours if you can avoid it. Ask your financial aid office or career services office how to apply for on-campus positions.


  1. Payment Plans

Your school’s billing office, sometimes referred to as the bursar’s office, cashier’s office, or student accounts office, may have payment plans available to help you spread the remaining costs you owe the school over several payments throughout a semester. The payment plan can help you budget the payments rather than paying in one lump sum, possibly helping you avoid costly late fees.


  1. Special Circumstances Reevaluation

Sometimes a family’s finances are not accurately reflected on the FAFSA form because of changes that have occurred, such as job loss/reduction, divorce or separation, or other special circumstances. This may be even more common now that you can file the FAFSA form early and with tax information that can be two years old by the time enrollment begins.

Schools are not required to consider special circumstances, but those that do have a process by which you can petition for a reevaluation of the information on your FAFSA form. This process will likely require you to submit additional documentation to your school’s financial aid office. If warranted, the financial aid office can then recalculate your eligibility, possibly resulting in a change to your financial aid offer.


  1. Additional Federal Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted all of your free and earned money options and still need additional funds to help you pay for school, contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if you’re eligible for additional federal student loans. Just remember to borrow only what you need to pay your educational expenses.

Federal Direct PLUS Loans: If you are a dependent student and still need more money, your parent can apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. Most schools use the application on StudentLoans.gov, but others may have their own application. The PLUS loan application process does include a credit check. If your parent is not approved, he or she may still be able to receive a Direct PLUS Loan by obtaining an endorser (cosigner) or documenting extenuating circumstances. If a parent borrower is unable to secure a PLUS loan, the student may be eligible for additional unsubsidized student loans of up to $5,000 depending upon his or her year in school.


  1. Aid Advances, School-Based Loans, or Emergency Aid

Sometimes you may have college-related costs, such as housing costs or other living expenses, before your financial aid is disbursed to you (or remaining after you have received all of your financial aid). Your school may offer an option to advance your financial aid, offer a school-based loan program, or have an emergency aid procedure.

Several schools now offer emergency aid opportunities if you experience unexpected expenses or challenges that are making it difficult for you to complete the semester. Ask your financial aid office if they offer these options and always make sure you are aware of the terms and conditions (such as interest rates or repayment terms) of your agreement.


  1. Private or Alternative Loans

Some private institutions offer education loans that do not require the FAFSA form. While we recommend federal aid first, we realize it does not always cover the cost, especially for pricier schools. Private loans will almost always require a cosigner and may have higher fees or interest rates depending on your credit.

I encourage you to first ask your financial aid office if they have a list of lenders for you to consider, but not all schools maintain such a list. If not, you can search for lenders on your own, but compare products before making your choice: look at interest rates, fees, repayment terms, creditworthiness requirements, satisfactory academic progress requirements, etc. Students and parents are free to choose whichever lender best fits their needs—even if it is not on a school’s preferred lender list.

Before making any final decisions on how to fill the gap between your aid and your costs, it is always recommended that you meet with a representative in your financial aid office to determine what campus resources might be available before going out on your own. It might also be possible that you still have the time to change some of your choices before the semester begins: Can you change the type of meal plan you chose? The type of housing? The number of classes in which you are enrolled? Check with campus officials to see if you still have time to select a different, more affordable option.

Justin Chase Brown is the Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Categories: Higher Education News

The Leadership Imperative

July 18, 2017 - 1:20pm

During my tenure as the Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow, I have found myself frequently reminded of a hard truth: teachers do not quit students or schools, they quit leaders. Teacher shortages are a national concern within the educational landscape. According to the Learning Policy Institute report, 40 states, as well as the District of Columbia, reported teacher shortages in mathematics, science and special education.  Another study suggests ”school leadership… [is] independently associated with corresponding reductions in teacher turnover.”

To solve this problem, we must be willing to ask hard questions that directly address leadership capacity and its impact on teacher turnover. What experience do leaders have in induction programs, building effective teams, and instructional supervision? Are principals being prepared to be managers or leaders? Do school leaders know how to build authentic collaboration with their staff members? These questions are important because the implications of ineffective school leadership mean more than a loss of teacher talent; it causes ripple effects that impact school climate, student achievement, and learning communities across the nation.

During the 2016-2017 school year, I met a first-year teacher who transformed from an energetic and ambitious burgeoning educational star to a “one-and-done” disengaged skeptic of the educational process. The cause: a school leader who overlooked innovation and ignored what was best for students and teachers. The effect: a first-year teacher who resigned and committed to not returning to PK-12 education. This is just one example of how quickly bad leadership can snuff out what could otherwise be a candle in the dark for many students and fellow educators.

Good leaders manage people and general operations.
Great leaders inspire and energize constituents.

Good leaders stand on the shoulders of competent personnel.
Great leaders build up others for leadership and support their success.

Good leaders accept things for what they are in the present.
Great leaders are visionaries who seek to inform the future with innovation, creativity and strategic planning.

Good leaders know that their actions will spark a reaction.
Great leaders know how to cause an effect that will inspire and motivate the hearts of staff, students and the community.

Thankfully, during my year as a Principal Ambassador Fellow, I have also had the opportunity to serve alongside great leaders from across the country, like my fellow Principal Ambassador Fellows. I witness great leaders in action during Teach to Lead summits, and I support great leaders through national engagement outreach at the Department of Education. Through these experiences, the leadership imperative has magnified into a moral imperative beyond teaching and school leadership roles. Through the efficient use of time, talent and other resources, states and local districts can champion research-based, leadership training. Even further, I suggest that we as school leaders take the time to reflect on the impact of their leadership by asking a simple question, “How can I successfully serve those in my school and reignite my imagination and passion for inspiring children?” Our nation’s children deserve the absolute best.

Jean-Paul Cadet is a 2016-17 Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow.

Photo at the top: Principal Ambassador Fellow Jean-Paul Cadet addresses a recent Principals at ED event.

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Categories: Higher Education News

The Ability to Inspire: U.S. Presidential Scholars National Recognition Program from an Advisor’s Perspective

July 13, 2017 - 11:35am

Who are we and what did we do?

We are Nina Srivastava and Andy Trattner, and we had the honor of serving as the Executive Advisors for this year’s National Recognition Program (NRP) honoring the 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars.** We are alumni of the program ourselves (2014) and rising college seniors at Harvard (Nina) and MIT (Andy). We helped run the NRP events for this year’s Scholars, arriving in DC two weeks before they did, and preparing with the Department of Education (ED) staff. Simone Olson and Caryn Kuzner at ED have been at the helm of this program for years, and we were grateful for their experience and guidance.

As you can imagine, coordinating the logistics of transporting over 150 high school seniors to recognition events around our nation’s capital is an intricate task. We did everything from vehicle orchestration to board game selection to security checkpoint choreography.

Our primary role, however, involved leading a team of twenty recent alumni who return to NRP each year to staff the program, the Advisors. Each Advisor serves as the primary point of contact for the “cluster” of 6-8 Scholars they are assigned.

Clusters move together from event to event, come up with group cheers to help with attendance, and bond through facilitated group activities during free time. It sounds very organized and boring, and although it is organized, the activities are far from boring!

We were Advisors for the past two years before becoming Executive Advisors, so we can say with certainty that meeting diverse folks from all over the country is a fun adventure every year for all of the Advisors.

What happens during NRP?

During the week of NRP, the Advisor team arrived on Thursday night, and we met them with excitement. After two weeks in a cubicle at ED, it was reenergizing to see them full of joy and ready to prepare for the Scholars’ arrival.

On Friday, we took the Advisors to ED with us where we led them through Advisor Orientation and Training, and they helped us prepare all of the information packets for Scholars, their families, and our guests of honor, the White House Commissioners who select the Scholars. One of the highlights of the program is the opportunity to visit the White House.

Every year, we wait with bated breath to hear from the White House about whether we will be able to visit, and if so, with whom. This year, for example, we heard on Friday afternoon that the White House would be able to accommodate us for a Monday visit with First Lady Melania Trump.

Saturday, NRP officially began when the Arts Scholars moved into our dorm at Georgetown. By this point, they had already been in D.C. preparing and rehearsing. In one week, they put together a professional quality show that they performed at the Kennedy Center! The arrival of the Scholars is always met with lots of excitement from the Advisors, who have spent a few days in DC preparing and are eager to meet their charges for the weekend.

In addition to the Arts Scholars performance at the Kennedy Center, the other main highlight of the weekend was the Medallion Ceremony, where the Scholars were presented with their medallions by the Chair of the Commission, Dr. Marina McCarthy. Normally, the Secretary of Education addresses the Scholars, but this year, the Scholars were lucky to have three addresses! Secretary Betsy DeVos, Acting Assistant Secretary Jason Botel, and Congressman Jamie Raskin congratulated the Scholars.

The address from Congressman Raskin was particularly special because he himself was a Scholar in 1979. Each year, these addresses galvanize the Scholars and inspire them to continue to be involved citizens.

So, each year during NRP, Scholars go to lots of events and meet some important people in a very short time. In between, they tour D.C., and they mingle and form relationships amongst themselves, camp-style. It’s fun! But why does it matter?

For many scholars, NRP is their first college-like experience. And just like college, it can set the tone for the rest of a student’s life.

NRP allows Scholars who come from myriad background situations to share their stories, make friends with high-achieving peers, and imagine a better future for our country. It provides good, clean fun that is fueled by the pure joy of companionship, enhanced by the gravity of patriotic duty, and impelled by the exuberance of high school–tempered with the maturity of adulthood.

We discuss our favorite ice cream flavors along with our future dreams. We compare Culvers to WaWa to Chick-fil-A to In and Out, and we wear formal clothes for a jam-packed 24 hours of back-to-back meetings with elected and appointed officials. We discover the similarities and differences that make America the magnificent country it is, and we imagine the many improvements which we can dedicate our lives to making. NRP is fun, eye-opening, and empowering. We build lifelong relationships, broaden our perspectives, and give thanks for the opportunities we have been given.

The program’s fast pace is matched only by its ability to inspire, and we are thankful to have been able to attend for the past four years. We know Scholars long before and long after us have been and will continue to be grateful to the Department of Education and the White House for their continuous support of Presidential Scholars.


**Curious about the Presidential Scholars Program? Want to know who the Scholars are?

Each year, the Department’s Presidential Scholars Program invites 161 talented high school seniors to the nation’s capital to present them with a Presidential Scholars Medallion in recognition of their accomplishments during a National Recognition Program (NRP). The program was established by an Executive Order of the President in 1964 to recognize the top graduating male and female from each state for their extraordinary academic success, leadership, and service to school in community (General Scholars).

Since then, the program has expanded to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional ability in the performance, visual, and literary arts (Arts Scholars) and in career and technical fields (CTE Scholars). The Scholars are identified either through their performance on standardized tests, special nominations from their Chief State School Officers, nominations from one of the Presidential Scholars Program’s partner organizations, or through their respective statuses as Arts applicants (by partner organization, YoungArts) or CTE applicants (nominated by Chief State School Officer). They are selected by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.


Nina Srivastava is a rising senior at Harvard, a 2014 alumnus of the U.S. Presidential Scholars program and an Executive Advisor for the National Recognition Program honoring the 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars.

Andy Trattner is a rising senior at MIT, a 2014 alumnus of the U.S. Presidential Scholars program and an Executive Advisor for the National Recognition Program honoring the 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars.

Photo at the top: 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars with First Lady Melania Trump in the East Room of the White House

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Categories: Higher Education News

Something Borrowed: How Marriage Impacts Your Student Loans

July 10, 2017 - 11:00am

Recently married? Getting married soon? Congratulations! Weddings can require a lot of planning, and you probably already have a ton on your plate, but there is one item you may not have on your to-do list that I recommend you add—figuring out how getting married can impact your student loans.

Now that you’ve read the title, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait. Getting married impacts my student loans?” If you’re enrolled or interested in enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan, it sure can.


  • Filing taxes jointly with your spouse always means we’ll use your joint income when calculating payments under an income-driven repayment plan.
  • Filing taxes separately from your spouse usually means we’ll use just your income when calculating payments under an income-driven repayment plan.
  • If we are using a joint income to calculate your payment and your spouse has federal student loans, your payments will be reduced to account for your spouse’s loan debt.
  • Filing taxes separately can make some income-driven repayment plans more affordable, but you might take a tax hit.

Let’s dive in.

Income-Driven Repayment

Instead of choosing the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, many borrowers choose to repay their federal student loans according to their incomes. This is called income-driven repayment. Like the name and my brief description implies, income-driven repayment plans use your income and family size to calculate your payment. If you’re enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan and you’re married, we not only ask about your income, but also about your spouse’s income as well.

How you file your taxes affects how your income-driven payment amount is calculated

Income-driven repayment plans generally set your student loan payment according to your adjusted gross income (AGI). What is your adjusted gross income? It’s a number from your federal income tax return. After you get married, you have the option to file your federal income tax return jointly with your spouse or separately from your spouse. When you file a joint federal income tax return, there’s just one adjusted gross income, based on the combined income of you and your spouse.

As a general rule:

  • If you file a joint federal income tax return with your spouse, we’re going to base your student loan payment on your joint income.
  • If you file a separate federal income tax return from your spouse, we’re going to base your student loan payment on your individual income.

One exception:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan: The one exception to this general rule is the REPAYE Plan, which bases your student loan payment on the combined income of you and your spouse regardless of whether you file jointly or separately.

All of the other income-driven repayment plans—the Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plans—follow the general rule that looks at how you file your federal income tax return with your spouse in deciding how to calculate your payment.

Here’s a table for you visual learners.

How you file your taxes matters: Comparing the effects of filing jointly versus separately on the income-driven repayment plans

Repayment Plan Income Considered When Married Filing Jointly Income Considered When Married Filing Separately Revised Pay As You Earn Joint Income Joint Income Pay As You Earn Joint Income Individual Income Income-Based Repayment Joint Income Individual Income Income-Contingent Repayment Joint Income Individual Income

If it seems like using a joint income is going to disadvantage you, you can, of course, file your tax return separately from your spouse in order to ensure that your payment is based only on your income. However, before you jump to that option, you should consult a tax professional and consider your total financial situation. Most married couples file a joint federal income tax return for a reason: there are financial benefits to doing so. While we aren’t tax advisors, here are a few things you may give up by filing separately:

  • More advantageous tax brackets
  • The student loan interest deduction
  • The child care tax credit
  • The earned income tax credit

It can be difficult to figure out whether the tax benefits you lose by filing separately are worth the money you might save on your monthly loan payment. Only a financial advisor is going to be able to give you expert advice. However, the New York Times Upshot Blog posted an article several years ago that may help you make sense of some of this.

All this being said, when you’re married, filing jointly or separately isn’t the end of the story, however. So, if you’re worried that filing jointly is going to disadvantage you, read on.

Your spouse’s federal student loan debt can also affect how your payment is calculated

For us to take your spouse’s loan debt into consideration, only two things need to be true:

  • your spouse’s income needs to be included in the calculation (based on the criteria above), and
  • your spouse needs to have federal student loan debt.

So, any time we use a joint income to calculate your payment amount, we will also take into account any federal student loan debt your spouse has. We will then prorate your payment based on your share of your and your spouse’s combined federal student loan debt. And for the record, your spouse doesn’t need to be repaying his or her federal student loans under the same repayment plan as you or even under an income-driven repayment plan. Here’s an example.


Let’s say that you file taxes jointly with your spouse. You make $30,000 and your spouse makes $40,000. You don’t have any kids, and you live in the contiguous 48 states. You have a combined income of $70,000. Under the Pay As You Earn plan, payments are 10% of your discretionary income. That works out to be $380.33 per month. Now let’s say that you and your spouse each owe $30,000 in federal student loans, for a combined total debt of $60,000. Stated differently, you each owe half (50%) of the combined federal student loan debt. So, we take that $380.33 and divide it in half, to get $190.15. That $190.15? That’s your monthly payment. If your spouse independently applies for the Pay As You Earn Plan (which he or she would have to do in order to enroll), your spouse’s payment would also be $190.15 per month. If your spouse chooses a different repayment plan, his or her payment may be different, but it won’t affect your calculated payment of $190.15.

Now I hear you saying, “But what if my spouse doesn’t have federal student loans?” Well, under the example above, that $380.33 would be your payment, because you owe 100% of your and your spouse’s combined federal student loan debt.

If that $380.33 isn’t affordable to you, and you’re interested in the Pay As You Earn, Income-Based Repayment, or Income-Contingent Repayment plans, this brings us to your other option: filing taxes separately from your spouse. Using the example above, if you filed separately from your spouse, your payment would be based only on your income of $30,000. Under Pay As You Earn, your payment would be $47 per month. The chart below walks you through the different options.

Comparing the effects of filing jointly versus separately on the Pay As You Earn Plan when your spouse does and does not have federal student loan debt.

Married Filing Jointly Married Filing Separately  Tax Filing Status  Spouse HAS Federal Student Loan Debt Spouse DOESN’T Have Federal Student Loan Debt Spouse HAS Federal Student Loan Debt Spouse DOESN’T Have Federal Student Loan Debt Your Income  $30,000 $30,000 $30,000 $30,000 Your Loan Debt  $30,000 $30,000 $30,000  $30,000 Spouse’s Income  $40,000  $40,000  $40,000 $40,000 Spouse’s Loan Debt $30,000  $0 $30,000  $0 Relevant Income $70,000  $70,000 $30,000 $30,000 Relevant Loan Debt $60,000 $30,000 $30,000 $30,000 10% of Discretionary Income $380.33  $380.33  $47 $47 Your Percentage of Relevant Loan Debt 50%  100% 100%  100% Your Monthly Payment $190.15  $380.33 $47 $47

Okay, let’s take a look one last time at the example above where you have student loan debt and your spouse does not. In that case, your Pay As You Earn payment would be $380.33 if you file jointly and $47 if you file separately. So, you can save $333.33 per month by filing separately. Is that worth it? Well, that savings works out to $3,999.96 over the course of the year. Will your taxes go up less than $3,999.96? More than $3,999.96? At all? That’s what you need to find out. If your taxes don’t go up by filing separately or they go up less than $3,999.96 by filing separately, it may make sense to file separately.

Let’s sum up.

  • If you file taxes jointly with your spouse or choose the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan (REPAYE), your joint income will be used to calculate your income-driven payment amount.
    • Any time a joint income is used, your payment is prorated if your spouse also has federal student loan debt.
  • If your spouse doesn’t have federal student loan debt, you can get a lower payment by filing your taxes separately under all income-driven plans except REPAYE, but the amount of income tax you owe may go up if you do.
  • You can apply for an income-driven repayment plan on StudentLoans.gov. You must recertify your income and family size each year to remain on these plans.
  • If your spouse also wants to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, he or she must complete a separate income-driven repayment plan application on StudentLoans.gov. Additionally, you each need to co-sign each other’s applications.

Ian Foss is a Program Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Student Chefs Cook up Nutrition and Great Taste at ED

July 6, 2017 - 1:07pm

Eight teams of student chefs from across the country converged on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters recently to be judged on their efforts to create innovative and healthy menus for school lunches that would appeal to their fellow students.

The teams were national finalists in the Healthy Schools Campaign Cooking Up Change competition. It recognizes and rewards students who develop tasty and nutritious meals that meet the same strict monetary and dietary standards that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets for real school lunches.

After preparing their menus in the ED cafeteria, the students were assessed by a panel of judges on the presentation, delivery, and taste of their meals. Those gathered for the final competition included food industry supporters, ED staff, parents, and students, who began boiling over with excitement as the time came to announce the winners:

. . . third place went to the team from Phoenix for “M&J Curry, Zesty Curried Corn and Potatoes, and Darn Good Bananas”;

. . . second place went to the team from Detroit for “Zesty Chicken Rice Bowl, Tomato Lime Cucumber Wheels, and Yogurt Splash”;

. . . and top honors went to . . .  the team from Orange County, California, whose members impressed the judges with “Chicken Kashmir, Pepino Curry, and Tropical Kheer.”

Isabella Moreno (left), Yasmin Marquez (right), and Carlos Marquez (missing from photo), recent graduates of La Habra High School in Orange County, California, received top honors at the Cooking Up Change competition.

With tears of joy, the Orange County team came on stage in ED’s auditorium to collect their trophy and give short speeches, thanking their families, schools, and the head chef who taught them all they know about cooking. The remaining seven teams were awarded medals. All eight teams had won local and regional cooking competitions to advance to the finals in Washington.

One important aim of the Cooking Up Change competition is to encourage the public to view USDA standards as a goal worth meeting rather than as a challenge that’s insurmountable. “These incredible students demonstrated that meals can be both healthy and delicious!” remarked Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos after trying all of the student chefs’ creations. She mentioned how impressed she was with the finalists’ cooking efforts and added, “You don’t have to sacrifice flavor to eat smart.” The secretary also lauded the teamwork that was required to create such complex and unique recipes.

Rochelle Davis, Executive Director, Healthy Schools Campaign, Secretary DeVos, and student chef

Those gathered for the competition understand that healthy meals provide students with the nutrients they need to be active learners — critical for them to attain a high-quality K–12 education. These students are pushing the school lunch industry to innovate and create nutritious food that appeals to students.

Sam Ryan is the youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Paul Wood.

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Categories: Higher Education News

ED in the Field ~ School Visit: Imagine Andrews

June 30, 2017 - 10:51am

It is not every day that ED staff is granted the opportunity to enter into a classroom and observe elementary students engaging in lesson plans and sharing thought-provoking discussions with their classmates. For several ED staff, the opportunity presented itself through the ED in the Field ~ School Visit program.

ED in the Field ~ School Visit

The ED in the Field ~ School Visits have become a staple engagement effort adopted by staff throughout the Department of Education who wish to learn more about the impact of their work through practice and theory. The program is intended to increase interactions among department personnel, school educators, and administrators to better inform decisions made on policy as it relates to real-world impact.

Imagine Andrews Public Charter School, located on Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, was among three school sites ED staff visited on a recent morning. St. Mary’s private school and Ashburton Elementary public school were the others. Led by Principal Howard Douglas Rice II, ED staff participated in classroom observations of kindergarten through eighth grade students, a roundtable discussion with parents from the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and a discussion with Imagine School administrators.

The Experience

When ED staff looked along the hallway walls and noticed their measures of excellence, it was evident that Imagine Andrews exemplifies an environment that promotes student achievement and fosters educational excellence. During the classroom observation of a kindergarten class for five- and six-year olds, Ms. Cole’s students gathered together on the large alphabet carpet to sing alongside letters of the alphabet as they danced the Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes dance.

In another observation, this time of a science class for 7th– and 8th-grade students, Mr. Green helped students understand gravity and matter. ED staff watched intently as students tested their predictions of the impact volume and weight would have on the time for a ball of paper, tennis ball, and rock to fall to the ground.

Not surprisingly, each group of about four or five students in the class of 23 used the learning activity to also build leadership skills. Members of each group assumed the roles of equipment manager, group leader, recorder, and spokesperson. The classroom observations allowed ED staff to gauge how well the students were learning, and the roundtable discussions gave ED staff profound insight into the groundwork that is required to positively impact the school system.

The Groundwork

The PTA roundtable discussion provided clear indication of the strong parental engagement at Imagine Andrews over the past six years. With a memberships base of 115, the parents work year-round to fundraise, put on special events with the surrounding community, leaders and partners, host social spirit nights, and perform outreach and recruitment efforts to engage families and offer a more innovative learning environment for their children. The school is fortunate to have parents who support it with the necessary resources and quality learning tools needed for the students to thrive.

The school administration recognizes that building a bridge between military families and civilians poses both challenges and benefits. The population is 65% military and 35% civilian, and, since Imagine Andrews is not a zone school, children throughout Prince Georges County have an equal opportunity in the lottery for admission to the school. Although military families rotate in and out of the school every few years, the teacher attrition rate at Imagine Andrews is low.

The overall visit granted ED staff more awareness of the real-world impact of their day to day work.

Shavonney White is a management and program analyst in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

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Categories: Higher Education News

9 Myths About the FSA ID

June 22, 2017 - 12:56pm

The FSA ID is a username and password that students, parents, and borrowers must use to log on to certain U.S. Department of Education websites such as fafsa.gov, StudentAid.gov, and StudentLoans.gov. The FSA ID is a secure way to access and sign important documents without using personally identifiable information.

Log-in options on fafsa.gov

Log-in options on StudentAid.gov

Log-in options on StudentLoans.gov

As with any new process, there are some myths floating around about creating and using an FSA ID. Let’s tackle some of those myths right now…

Myth #1:

It’ll take a long time to create my FSA ID.

On average, it takes about seven minutes to create an FSA ID. Federal Student Aid has a variety of resources, such as this helpful video, that walk you through each step of creating an FSA ID.


Myth #2:

Only students need to create an FSA ID.

If you are a dependent student, then your parent will need his or her own FSA ID in order to sign the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form electronically. That’s because you will need to provide your parent’s information on your FAFSA form, and your parent will need to sign the FAFSA form as well. But here is something very important: Your parent must create his or her own, separate FSA ID. Your parent shouldn’t use your FSA ID, and you shouldn’t create an FSA ID for your parent.

If you’re not sure whether you’re a dependent student, visit StudentAid.gov/dependency.

Myth #3:

It’s okay to let someone else create or use my FSA ID.

Not okay. Each individual person needs to create his or her own FSA ID. If you’re a parent, you should NOT create an FSA ID for your child. If you’re a student, you should NOT create an FSA ID for your parent. Why? For example, if a parent tries to create both the parent’s and child’s FSA IDs, it’s easy to mix up information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and usernames and passwords. Because we verify your information with the Social Security Administration, it’s crucial that this information be correct. Also, if someone else creates your FSA ID, how will you know the answers to your challenge questions if you need to retrieve a forgotten username or password?

Most importantly, FSA IDs are used to sign legally binding documents, so giving someone access to your FSA ID is like allowing them to forge your signature. Be sure to create your own FSA ID, and save yourself the trouble.

Myth #4:

I need an email address or mobile phone number to create an FSA ID.

You do NOT need an email address or mobile phone number to create an FSA ID. If you don’t have an email address or mobile phone number, you can leave those fields blank. However, adding this information is strongly recommended. Once your email address is verified, you can enter your email address instead of your username when you log in. You can also use your email address or mobile phone number to retrieve your forgotten username or password or to unlock your account. It’s easy to update and verify your email address or mobile phone number by going to fsaid.ed.gov and clicking on the “Manage My FSA ID” tab.

Manage My FSA ID tab

Myth #5:

As a parent, I can use the same email address or mobile phone number for both my FSA ID and my child’s FSA ID.

An email address or mobile phone number cannot be used with more than one FSA ID. If you’re a student and you choose to provide an email address and/or mobile phone number when creating your FSA ID, you’ll need to include your own email address and/or mobile phone number. Your parent will need to include his or her own email address and/or mobile phone number when creating his or her FSA ID. If you don’t have an email address or mobile phone number, you can leave those fields blank.

Myth #6:

I need an FSA ID to fill out the FAFSA® form.

The fastest way to sign and submit your FAFSA form is to use an FSA ID. That said, if you or your parent don’t have an FSA ID, you can still submit the FAFSA form. If you fill out the FAFSA form online but don’t have an FSA ID, you can choose the option to submit your FAFSA form without signatures, and then print and mail a signature page. If you can’t fill out the FAFSA form online, you have other options.

Students without access to a computer can receive FAFSA assistance from a wide range of college access organizations, such as the National College Access Network; a student can also visit a local library, use a computer at school, or get help from a school counselor.

Myth #7:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has to verify my information before I can use my FSA ID.

If you’re filling out a FAFSA form for the first time, you can use your newly created FSA ID to sign and submit your FAFSA form right away. But, if you need to submit a renewal FAFSA form or make corrections after you’ve submitted your FAFSA form, you first have to wait for the SSA to verify your identity before you can use your new FSA ID. The verification process takes one to three days.

When creating your FSA ID, make sure to enter your information exactly as it appears on your Social Security card to avoid delays. Once your information is verified, you can use your FSA ID to submit your renewal FAFSA form, make corrections, access your loan history, and a host of other things.

If you’re a parent, you never have to wait for the SSA match to sign your child’s FAFSA form. However, if you sign the FAFSA form when your SSA match status is listed as “pending” and it later returns “no match,” we will remove your signature from your child’s FAFSA form. If that happens, you will either need to resolve the conflict with the SSA and sign electronically again, or you’ll need to print and mail a signature page.

Myth #8:

Confirming my email address or mobile phone number can take up to 24 hours.

You should receive your mobile phone verification code and email confirmation within three minutes. If you don’t, your email account’s spam filter could be the culprit. It’s a good idea to add the FSA ID email address—FSA-ID@ed.gov—to your address book to make sure you get your confirmation.

Myth #9:

I forgot my password, and it’s going to take 30 minutes to reset it.

The easiest way to reset your password is by using your verified email address or verified mobile phone number. If you reset your password using one of these options, you can use your FSA ID immediately. You have to wait 30 minutes only if you reset your password using your challenge questions.

There are lots of resources online to help you create and use your FSA ID; visit StudentAid.gov/fsaid for more FSA ID information. In no time, you’ll have your very own FSA ID too!

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Categories: Higher Education News

John F. Kennedy Centennial Celebration an Opportunity to Strengthen Civic Engagement

June 15, 2017 - 1:03pm

“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Your Country.” – President John F. Kennedy, 1961

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the birth of one of the most celebrated presidents in our nation’s history, John F. Kennedy. To commemorate the occasion, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation has launched a year-long initiative to honor his legacy by encouraging youth to get more involved in their communities, and to better understand how government works.

The move is in response to the alarming decline in young people who understand their rights and responsibilities as members of a vibrant, free society, and who participate in civic life today. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation believes that increasing awareness through a more involved citizenry is critical to the future of a fully functioning democracy.

“If young people are not aware of how government works they will not get involved, have faith in government or vote at the same rates,” said Steve Rothstein, Executive Director of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Recent statistics bear this out:

  • When John Kennedy was in office, Pew Research findings showed that 75 percent of Americans trusted their government. Last year, according to a comparable study, public confidence had plummeted to 19 percent.
  • Tufts University’s Tisch School reported that, in 2014, voter turnout among young people, which failed to reach 20 percent, was the lowest it has been in 40 years. What’s more, the same study says that the proportion of youth registered to vote — just 46.7% — is also at a 40-year low.

To promote civic engagement, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation have teamed up to prepare non-partisan and free online-educational resources that focus on government and civics during the Kennedy administration.

One of President Kennedy’s most enduring legacies was his clarion call to all Americans to take ownership of their government by getting more involved. In his famous inaugural address, he called upon American citizens to be stakeholders in making the United States and the world a better place. He encouraged others – whether they considered themselves “citizens of America or citizens of  the world” — to think deeply about how we can help and what we can share.

“President Kennedy inspired a generation that transformed America – and they in turn passed that inspiration on to their children and grandchildren,” said Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson. “Now, as we mark the Centennial of my grandfather’s birth, we renew his call for service, courage, innovation, and inclusion, and help a new generation use his example to embrace the challenges of our time.”

More information on the initiative, how to get involved, and educational resources are available at the links below:

JFK Centennial


About the Centennial

JFK Library – Education

JFK Library – Resources

Patrick Kerr is a writer on the Office of Communications and Outreach communications development team.

Photo at the top: President John F. Kennedy (at lectern) delivers an address on world peace and nuclear disarmament during commencement exercises at American University. Left to right: Reverend Warren H. Bright, Jr., Minister of Glenwood Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio; Reverend Charles R. Smyth, Headmaster of the Pennington School in Pennington, New Jersey (mostly hidden behind American flag); John S. Myers, Dean of Washington School of Law (seated in back, partially hidden); unidentified; President Kennedy; and Donald Derby, Dean of Administration (mostly hidden, right of lectern). John M. Reeves Athletic Center, American University, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Cecil Stoughton, White House/John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

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Categories: Higher Education News

“What Is Education?” Elevated Thought Students Respond Via the Arts

June 13, 2017 - 2:28pm

For students from Lawrence, Massachusetts, the answer to “What is education?” comes best through the arts — painting, drawing, photography, narrative, poetry, music, and film – and through their own context as passionate learners in a historically immigrant, low-income community north of Boston.

Eight Lawrence students, along with their adult mentors from Elevated Thought and the Mayor’s Health Task Force, came to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, D.C. in mid-May for the opening of the students’ art exhibit, on view at ED through June. They also came to demonstrate what student voices can contribute to a community’s renewal and to learn from ED’s leaders about how best to exercise their Youth Bill of Rights.

Lawrence, with a population of 76,000, has a colorful but bleak history: governmental turbulence; high poverty, unemployment and crime; and failing schools. When Lawrence schools were placed under state receivership in 2011, average math and English test scores positioned students in the bottom 1 percent statewide, and the high school dropout rate was 52 percent. In March 2012, Lawrence was described in a Boston magazine article highlighting the city’s drug trade and controversial politics as “the most godforsaken place in Massachusetts.”

By most accounts, Lawrence is rebounding. It has a new superintendent with an ambitious school turn-around plan, test scores are up, and the dropout rate is down. In addition, Lawrence has new leadership, new initiatives, and widespread community involvement in rejuvenation efforts. Still, the students’ visual art reflects a mix of hope and frustration.

Senior Celeste Cruz used paint and markers to create a person of color with a tree sprouting from the figure’s head. “The piece represents knowledge and growth nurtured in the minds of people of all colors,” she explained, including those with skin tones considered “alien” to this country. (About 75 percent of residents and 90 percent of public school students in Lawrence are Hispanic.)

Artwork of senior Celeste Cruz conveys that all people, regardless of their origins, can gain knowledge and grow.

Amaryllis Lopez, a Lawrence High School graduate and Elevated Thought youth leader, made a mixed media piece featuring a woman of color and these words: “Dream Your Way Out of the Nightmare.” “Sometimes your dreams have to transcend your situation — in this case an unsatisfactory education system — in order [for you] to be freed, to overcome and to achieve,” she said.

A mixed media piece by Amaryllis Lopez signifies that dreams may conquer adverse circumstances.

A painting from senior Nicole Garcia contains a brightly colored, abstract head, above which is written, “I’m Brilliant. Yo soy. I am intelligencia.” She created the piece to raise questions about what it means to be “smart” and “intelligent” in modern society.

A painting by student Nicole Garcia explores what it means to be intelligent in today’s world.

Student voices, in whatever their form, can broaden adult perspectives, Elecia Miller, project officer for the City of Lawrence Mayor’s Health Task Force, noted during ED’s celebration. “As much as [adults] care about youth in our city, we are not youth, and we do not necessarily know what the issues of the day are, or how to address them.”

This belief undergirds the work of two organizations, both with representatives at the ED gathering, that provide youth empowerment activities:

  • Elevated Thought is a Lawrence-based non-profit that serves and develops communities through, among other things, youth engagement; it stresses the arts’ power to generate awareness of social and community issues. Its current youth-driven campaign is “What Is Education? Liberation Through Education.”
  • The Lawrence Youth Council, created under the Mayor’s Health Task Force, gives the community’s youths a voice and advocates for their issues.

Students at the opening identified what they want changed in Lawrence schools, including high levels of stress, an insufficiently diverse teaching pool, and not enough opportunities to make choices. These and other concerns grew from a 600-student survey.

“Education is supposed to be freedom from oppression, but in reality we come to class and we feel anxiety, we feel as if our [test score] numbers are our identity,” Junielly Vargas, the youth council’s president, said. “We need [adults] to realize that education is more than numbers, more than books, more than letters on the board — it is life, it is family, it is friends, it is experience.”

Senior Junielly Vargas addresses the recent ED gathering to celebrate student arts and voices from Lawrence, Massachusetts.

With such concerns in mind, these students presented at the art opening their four-part Youth Bill of Rights, which they are disseminating widely to trigger more school improvements:

  1. Student needs come first. This requires youth leaders to become more involved in decisions about education and to have their voices heard. Marquis Victor, president and executive director of Elevated Thought, explained, “[School officials] make drastic changes each year, and the youth have no idea what is coming. The changes often don’t work. So the youth say, ‘Why don’t [school officials] talk to the youth? They will know what’s best for them.’”
  2. Students are liberated through their creations. The arts provide students with new ways to see the world. Schools should provide more classes in the arts and incorporate them into the teaching of all subject areas.
  3. Students’ vision is developed with and through their communities. Toward this end, the bridge between schools and the community needs strengthening.
  4. Students’ healthy growth is ensured. Greater emphasis on physical, mental and spiritual health can help students learn and mature. Improvements can begin with better school lunches which, one student observed, “look radioactive.”

Lawrence students cut the ribbon to signify the official opening of their art exhibit at ED.

At the end of the students’ day showcasing the power of their work in the arts to transform thinking about education, Jason Botel, ED’s deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, shared his admiration for the students’ accomplishments, the implementation of their critical thinking skills, and their courage. “You’re giving voice, color and form to your experiences in education and as community members,” he said. “In the process, you’re educating all of us.” He also shared his understanding of what he heard from them – that, while their road forward may be difficult, education and student development are processes in which they will need to exercise their clearly well-developed leadership abilities in order to … keep moving ahead.

Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov or visit https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit

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Categories: Higher Education News

Apprenticeship Program Helps Students Find And Fund Their Passions

June 9, 2017 - 1:31pm

Ask anyone in America what they would expect to see when walking through an American high school, and the last thing they’d probably say is a group of students building a house! Yet that’s exactly what goes on each and every day at the Academy of Construction and Design (ACAD), located at the Integrated Design & Electronics Academy (IDEA) Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

Late last month, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor were privileged to visit this school. During the visit, several high level officials had the opportunity to see this innovative high school apprenticeship program in action.

The trip was initially arranged to help give officials insight into what makes great Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs tick in light of the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, which requests an additional $20 million to promote innovative CTE programs in STEM fields through CTE National Programs.

“We wanted to see a program on the ground,” said James Manning, Acting Under Secretary of Education. “We want to learn what is working, what challenges are being encountered, and in what ways the Department of Education might be helpful.”

Most of our nation’s apprenticeships are housed in our postsecondary education system, but we know that to truly prepare our workforce, it’s imperative that we begin at the high school level. This is ACAD’s goal.

It doesn’t feel like a traditional school — it has a business oriented environment everywhere you look. We saw a garden that the students maintained, complete with a rain water catcher apparatus that they had built themselves. We saw work rooms and classrooms that were built to educate students to engage in hands-on careers.

And that house that the students were building? It was actually the school’s second, with the goal of ultimately selling it once finished.

At the visit’s conclusion, students, administrators, and private sector supporters engaged in a discussion focusing on the positive effects of this program on students’ lives and how parents need to see CTE as an opportunity for them. Roderic L.Woodson, advisor to the DC Students Construction Trades Foundation and Partner of Holland & Knight, remarked that “too many of our young people have lost sight of the opportunity that comes with building trades and skills that will help them build a life around these careers and a future.”

And the results aren’t just academic – graduates of ACAD are already experiencing the impact that this high-quality program can have on their lives.

During the visit, officials had the opportunity to meet Treymane Chatman, a 2014 ACAD graduate who is currently a carpentry apprentice and will be moving into a full-time role within the carpentry profession later this month. Treymane shared that, as a result of ACAD, he came into the apprenticeship with the skills and knowledge to hit the ground running and handle everything he was asked to do. Treymane hopes to have a general contracting corporation one day and the skills he learned at ACAD and during his apprenticeship will help him get there.


Sam Ryan is Youth Liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

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Categories: Higher Education News

What the World Can Teach Us: International Lessons on Choice and Innovation in Education

June 8, 2017 - 3:55pm

Every student in the United States deserves a great education. And, every parent in this country – regardless of background, income or zip code – deserves the right to choose the school that is best for his or her child.

To achieve that goal, Secretary DeVos has called for “a transformation that will open up America’s education system.” If we’re going to meet the diverse needs of today’s learners, we need fresh thinking and innovative approaches.  There’s plenty we can learn from other countries, as they strive to prepare their students for 21st century realities.

Those lessons were the subject of a recent briefing at the Department – the first of a new series of learning sessions the Secretary has launched, focused on effective, student-centered education. The speaker was Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Schleicher’s message was simple: Around the world, nations are finding that choice programs can and do contribute to better results for students. If we want school choice to promote equity and excellence for all students, we need to keep it real, relevant, and meaningful. And, we need to ensure parents have the information and support they need to make the right decision for their kids.

Schleicher cites England as an example of a country that’s taken a proactive approach to sharing information with parents about school choice. Here in the United States, several districts – including New Orleans and Denver, which the Secretary highlighted in remarks at the Brookings Institution – provide families transparent access to the information they need to make sound choices on behalf of their children.

“As a parent, you can’t take advantage of a choice you don’t know exists,” said Secretary DeVos in her remarks to Brookings. “We need to find ways of better connecting citizens to the information they need.”

Schleicher also emphasized the fact that countries that provided more autonomy at the school level saw greater student achievement. When those closest to the problem – teachers, parents and administrators – were given greater decision-making power to find solutions, the data showed that students performed at much higher levels.

Some OECD countries, like the Netherlands and Belgium, are implementing safeguards on the national level to increase choice, quality and opportunity for all students, regardless of background. They’re instituting weighted-student funding formulas, which ensure funding follows each student to the school they choose to attend, and calculate the amount provided based on his or her educational and economic needs. This type of funding promotes equity, transparency and flexibility.

Another key point of Schleicher’s is similar to the situation in the United States. Just like every state faces different educational challenges and opportunities, Schleicher asserts that one country can’t just “cut and paste” another’s system. That’s why, in recognition of this reality, the Every Student Succeeds Act allows each state the flexibility to find creative solutions that work best for that state.

We can all learn from Schleicher’s presentation of the facts surrounding choice and innovation in education throughout the world. To learn more, click here.

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Categories: Higher Education News